Monthly Archives: August 2012

What to Can? (And how to use what you’ve got…)

I’ve been doing home canning for a couple of years now. Literally. This is definitely my second, possibly my third, year doing canning. Before that, I basically did frozen soups and that was all.

But – what with all this seasonal eating and home-gardening and foraging – I’m finding that I need to start developing a better Canning Plan than “looks like a good idea at the moment”.

You know how that goes.
It’s like the old addage “Vegetarians don’t eat tofu. Vegetarians buy tofu… which then goes rotten in the fridge”.
It can be the same with canning. You start out making rhubarb barbicue sauce, because it looks like a good idea at the time, and end up with forteen thousand jars of jewel-toned jam and jelly sitting in your cupboard while you wonder how much toast you can really eat in one winter…

This is the trick with home canning.

Because I – and probably most of you who are reading this – grew up with (a) freezers[1], and (b) non-seasonal grocery stores, I don’t actually know how to use sugar/vinegar preserves in regular cooking. They get spread on toast or, maybe, layered into a cake (jam, jelly, fruit butter, fruit curd), or they get added to sandwiches/burgers or served as an accent to a Cheese Plate, or used as a garnish (sweet/sour cucumber pickles, for example).

We don’t necessarily have any idea what to do with, say, a bottle of pickled sour cherries other than serve it with baked brie, right?

So… The first question you have to ask yourself is: What do you like to eat?

If you’re a salsa fiend, but aren’t all that into pasta, you’re better off doing a variety of savoury tomato salsas (and variety is key there – I’m a fan of peach-tomato salsa, but green tomato salsa might be on your must-make list) than doing a zillion two-cup jars of tomato sauce… that you will never use.

Similarly, how are you going to use them?

My two main methods of cooking are (a) slow cooker[2], and (b) stove-top. If I were a barbicue/microwave kind of gal, I might be looking at things a little differently. If I were a raw foodie, I’d… okay, I’d probably be writing about how to use all that stuff you dehidrated last summer, to be perfectly honest, but you get the drift.

I eat meat. I eat meat – and veggies like winter squash, beets, celeriac, and rutabagas – that work really well when cooked low-and-slow. So I can use a lot of my preserves as “glazes” – Take about half a cup of jam/jelly/chutney/sauce and whisk it into about two cups of water. Add onion, garlic, and maybe some grainy mustard or dried sage or balsamic vinegar or something… and you have the “broth” that your pork shoulder (or butternut squash, or boneless, skinless chicken breast, or whatever) is going to roast/braise/slow-cook in.

You can step that up a bit, however, by combining preserves:

Add a tablespoon of tomato sauce – or even ketchup – to your “broth”
Throw in a couple of ice-cube-sized blocks of frozen spinach (or corn, or carrots… you get the idea)
Add a heaping spoonfull of pickles. No, really. I don’t mean add a bunch of kosher dills. I mean: Pickled turnip (that pink stuff they put on shwarma) or spicy pickled radishes. I mean sweet-and-sour montmorency cherries, sweet-pickled pearl onions, or mashed up pickled red peppers.

You can do the same thing on the stove-top:
Start with:
1 crumbled slice of black pudding (OR chorizo, if eating blood sausage squicks you out – about 1C, either way)
6-12 reconstituted dried mushrooms
4 cubes of frozen spinach (or other greens)
1/2 C spicy tomato salsa OR (for example) balsamic tomato sauce
1 tbsp red pepper jelly OR 1 sweet-pickled red pepper, mashed up
1/4 a yellow cooking onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp marmite (OR tamari OR just plain table salt)
2 tbsp butter OR olive oil
Basil and oregano to taste. 🙂

Combine the whole mess in a frying pan and sautee it, stirring gently but constantly, over medium-low heat, until it’s basically a bubbly, dark red-brown mess.
Add cooked rotini (or whatever pasta you like), heat through, and serve. Possibly with added parmejan on top.

Alternatively, you can add pickled turnip/radish/cucumber/whatever to cabbage salads or remoulades (those French salads made from apples and celeriac) for added sharpness and a handy extra dose of vegetable variety in Winter.

You can also try spreading the cavity of a winter squash (think Delecata or Celebration – something in the “meals for two” category) with a sweet-and-spicy chutney (or jelly, for that matter), and then fill it with a mixture of preserved fruits and veggies – like dried apples, currants or raisins; cranberry sauce; thinly sliced pickled daikon, or sour kraut.


So it’s very doable. But it helps if you have enough Sour Stuff on hand, and a rough idea of what you’re most likely to be eating, anyway. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I’d much rather eat frozen snap beans than pressure-canned snap beans, for example. (Also, I have a freezer and the ability to blanch stuff… but I don’t have a pressure canner).

[2] Or roasting pan, but if I use the slow-cooker, I find the critter is more tender when it’s done.

E is for Evolution – Pagan Blog Project 2012

Hey folks!
I’ve been having a Fashion Moment that’s been going on for the past week and a half. I put it down to a combination of:
1) It’s “Fall” (as far as retail and fashion magazines are concerned, anyway) and, thus, Fashion is totally on the radar everywhere I go.
2) My grandmother – who was quite the fashion plate – died on July 25th. And I inherited a bunch of her jewelry, among other things.
3) I’ve been (yet again, and largely thanks to Miss Sugar), been trying to figure out what my “style” is when it comes to clothing. I know what my “uniform” is but, to use Miss Sugar’s term, I don’t know what my “hook” is. I’m enough of a femme that I know how you present to the world has a MASSIVE effect on how the world treats you[1], so I feel like I need to figure that one out in order to be able to present to The World At Large as the wild-and-elegant[2], magically-fabulous woman that I am.
4) My grandfather (other side of the family) died very, very early this morning and, thus, I decided that I needed to find a black blouse[3] to wear to his funeral (unlike my grandmother – who was burried directly in the ground at a natural cemetery – my grandfather is having a church-service type funeral, which requires something a little bit dressier than a tank top under a nice cardigan).
5) I did a photoshoot last night and, upon looking at some of the shots (just on the digital screen, I haven’t got a clue what they’ll look like at full size) I realized something:
I don’t look like a child anymore.
I realize that, at 32, this is kind of a no-brainer. I don’t look like a “young woman” anymore. I have a face that goes with my body.
And so I bring you E is for Evolution
I don’t know if this realization/discovery/change means I’m shifting into “Mother” and out of “Maiden” or what.
I do think that I don’t want to be a Mother yet.
I spent a good chunk of my 20s being “mommy” to someone who only wanted me to kiss booboos and clean up messes, but wouldn’t recognize my own authority. So the idea of entering the “Mother” stage – even as a metaphor for calling your shots and creating your masterworks – kind of makes me cringe and wrinkle my nose.
So. I’m looking for something different.
Having read A Women’s Wheel Of Life when I was in my late teens, I’m inclined to take my cues from the “Queen” section (West/Autumn) of its cover image:

Lover, Amazon, Priestess… Now those are Titles I can Get Behind!

I am a Lover. I am an Amazon. I am calling the shots in my home. I am working to bring my magic, my faith, my careers, my long-term romantic (and – important to note – power-exchange) relationship, and my creativity into joyful, powerful, successful accord…
I want to be this chicky:

… Even more than I want to be this chicky:

But, either way, I’m aiming for “Queen” – Empress of All She Surveys – not “Mother”. I’m aiming for powerful, not nurturing, because – like it or not – “nuruturing” is unpleasantly linked with “sacrificing your needs in the name of other people’s wants” and with “giving up your dreams, plans, and goals so that someone else can have what they want instead”.

Look. I can get all Spider Man on you and point out that “with great power comes great responsibility”… because it’s true. When you rule, you have to take care of things, take care of the people in your charge, or else you’re a crappy ruler.
But a ruler who looks out for her people is still In Charge.

And that’s where I want to be.

So let this next phase of my evolution be a Queendom, not a Motherhood. Let me show it on my skin and in everything I do.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I’m a feminine chick, so sometimes I get patronized. But (a) I’m a white, feminine chick, so I get cut a lot of slack that, say, a brown feminine chick wouldn’t get; also (b) I’m a confident-as-fuck feminine chick, which means a lot of the guys (it’s pretty much always guys) who would otherwise patronize me or creep on me… tend to run in the other direction. So there. 😀
[2] Rubies and pearls, girls, the two sides of Femme. 😉 (I read that in, iirc… Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls… years ago).
[3] Not just for the funeral, but in general. I’m not fond of blouses… they tend not to fit my hourglass figure very well and, in my price-range, tend to be of the poly-cotton-spandex variety that rely on stretchiness to cover up their mediocre shaping. At the same time, “blouses” are more structured and, thus, both more formal and more grown-up. And I’m tired of being, effectively, in t-shirts all the time.

D is for Death – Pagan Blog Project 2012

Change of plans, folks. Originally, I was going to do “D is for Deities” (I may go with “G is for Goddesses” instead) as my next instalment in the Pagan Blog Project but, due to my grandmother passing away last week, I’ve decided, instead, to do:

D is for Death

How do I start?

I got a phone call, late Tuesday morning, from my aunts – my Dad’s sister and her wife (to clarify). They were up visiting but had received word that my grandmother was getting very close to dying and that they might want to get back to up-state New York ASAP. They called me and asked if I wanted to come with them.

Two hours later, having thrown some stuff (sheet music, poetry, a week’s worth of clothes, shampoo, note-paper) into a suitcase and having dragging my girlfriend away from work so that she could get me to my Mom’s place, where my aunts were staying, the three of us set off for Ithaca. (My sweetie can’t travel outside the country at present, otherwise there would have been four).

One of my aunts and I spent the night doing rotating shifts – one of us would sleep on the cot the hospice staff brought it, and the other would fitfully doze by my grandmother’s bedside, keep contact, pay attention to her breathing and the presence of her heartbeat.

I spent Wednesday doing the same thing, while my aunts prepped their (very recently renovated – and, thus, still disorganized) house for the impending influx of relatives.

Another aunt (also my Dad’s sister) arrived Wednesday night. She took Wednesday night’s watch and my two aunts and I went back to their house where I gratefully fell into bed (another cot) and went to sleep.

I dreamed – or possibly imagined – that my grandmother was standing at the foot of my bed, looking somewhere between 30 and 75, and smiling.

Shortly there-after, I was awoken by my aunt.

My grandmother died at 11:02pm on Wednesday night.

In white, urban Canada, death is pretty hidden. It tends to happen in hospitals, and the families don’t tend to be the ones dealing with the bodies. Getting my Dad’s body from his hospital room to the funeral home where he/it was cremated was done by hospital and funeral-home staff, rather than us.

This wasn’t how things happened with my grandmother.

The staff at the hospice brought a basin of warm, soapy water, and a heap of washcloths and towels… and we washed her body.

If there was any weirdness about doing so, it was that a little part of me kept expecting her to move – a flicker of eyelid, the tremble of a heart still beating – not because I was washing the body of someone who had been alive less than an hour ago and was now dead.

My grandmother was burried on Saturday in a natural cemetery. I really like this idea – you just go into the ground, wrapped in a shroud (natural fibres only, thanks) on a bed of spruce boughs.

It seemed really fitting that we be the ones to wash her body, to cut open the pink silk dress so that she could go to the ground in splendor, to wrap her in her shroud of paisley wool (brought by one of her own ancestors from Paisley, Scotland, fyi) and secure it with her old, silk scarves. To sing songs – The Ancestors’ Breath; Return Again; Hymn to Her (just the chorus) – while we washed her body and, again, as part of her burial ceremony.

I wrote a poem (which I’m not going to put here – at least not in full – as I’d like to get it For Real Published elsewhere, if I can) about the experience, which I read at her burial. Part of it is below:

this is how it used to be done
no secrecy
no whisking away of the dead by discrete hospital staff
just wrung out wash cloths
soapy water
and us


it dones’t feel weird
or creepy
or wrong
to be doing this
to rinse the cloth
smooth cheek or belly
to close her lidded eyes with gentle hands
to be among these daughters washing
the mother of us all
one final time

The whole thing felt very personal. That it was all done by family, and that the family in question – while being from a number of different faiths – were all very oriented towards the idea of “peace in nature”, made me feel particularly connected to, and comfortable with, the whole endevor.

I want to see more burials like this[1]. It seems extremely appropriate for folks of Pagan and Heathen faiths.
There is a natural cemetery in Coburg, Ontario, and another one looking to open in Paisley, ON (near Guelph, I believe).

(The Pretenders)

(Shaina Noll)

(The version I learned – The Flirtations)

(Original – Sweet Honey in the Rock)

When I am gone, come and burry me
under the roots of an apple tree
let the seasons turn for a year or three
then eat of the apples that once were me

Fairwell, fairwell, and fairwell,
The circle is never broken;
We will see you on the next round,
We will see you again.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I just – literally inside of two minutes ago – got word from my Mom that her father, my maternal grandfather (and last living grandparent), is getting close to death and will probably go inside of the next five days. Blood clots and something to do with his kidneys (which we knew would happen – he has tumers on both kidneys, so…).
Cripes. When it rains, it pours…
But I know his burial won’t be anything like Gram’s. It’ll be like Nana’s (last summer). A funeral parlour, a minister, and the vast, extended farming family who are mostly some degree of Christian, like my grandparents.

Apple Butter from Neighbourhood Apples

There is an apple tree growing around the corner from my house.
I am not the only woman in my neighbourhood – or even my building – who visits this tree when its fruit is coming down. My neighbour, who is older than me and who also a gleaner, tells me that she’s pretty sure they are “Clairmont” apples (though I could be mis-remembering the name she gave me) – a relative of McIntosh, anyway.

There is another apple tree growing about a 40-minute walk south of where I live. It has small, yellow fruit (possibly a Greensleaves apple, or maybe a Yellow Ingestrie…? I don’t actually have any idea).

Between these two trees, I’ve managed to pick (after cutting out the bad spots, of which there were many since I was picking them off the ground rather than off the tree) what came to about five cups of diced apples – three cups of the yellow, and two cups of the green-with-a-red-blush.

I’ve currently got them in the slow-cooker with:
1 C granulated sugar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp each: cloves, cinamon
Pinch salt

By the end of the day, I’m hoping to have 2-3 cups worth of apple butter (once I’ve hit them with the imersion-mixer, after they’ve been cooking for a while, in order to smooth out the purree) to go with my 3-and-a-bit cups of peach butter.

I’ve included a LOT more sugar in this recipe (and less vinegar) than I did with the peach butter… partly because the peaches are sweeter than the apples.
I’m hoping this works out okay. It’ll be a very sweet apple butter which, hopefully, won’t be too sweet to enjoy[1].
Currently, my kitchen smells like apple pie, though, so I’m not complaining. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I’m discovering, as I do more canning and, more to the point, as I eat the fruits of my labour (hahaha), that I prefer jams (and similar) that are from tart fruit like sour cherries, raspberries, crab apples, currants, and rosehips… Grape jelly doesn’t really do anything for me (I say, while still have 3+ cups of the stuff loitering in my pantry with no clue what to do about them) and peach preserves work better (and have a lower pH… always helpful) for me when they have a good dose of (mild) vinegar – e.g.: pear cider vinegar – added into the mix.
Super sweet stuff like white mulberries or strawberries often end up with rhubarb added in to help balance the sweet/sour mix.